Steps to Prevent and Treat Muscle Stiffness- Or Trismus
No one wants a locked jaw! (And, believe me, you DON’T have tetanus.)
Occasionally following oral surgery (or other injuries to the face or head area), muscles of the jaws can become very tense and restricted. This, of course, makes it very difficult to to open and move the jaws around properly to eat and otherwise function normally. This sometimes painful, always perturbing condition is known as trismus; it describes a general restriction of the jaw opening and movement.
Wisdom tooth extraction in particular may cause swelling and soreness of these “muscles of mastication” (as they are formally called), followed by this jaw stiffness or trismus. To reduce, or even eliminate or prevent this from happening, do the following:
Put ice-cold compresses on the face in the areas of surgery – a “baggie”-type plastic bag or frozen vegetables from the freezer works well – for the first two or three days following the surgery or trauma.
After those first days, the swelling and stiffness should be at their maximum. You can then begin to place warm – even extra-warm – compresses (hot wash cloths, heating pad, etc. on the face and neck regions. This will help them begin to relax.
You can then begin to massage your jaw muscles, using your fingers to rub deeply and relax the muscles, moving from in front of the ear down to the chin.
You can also exercise your jaw muscles – a special physical therapy – by stretching the teeth apart using your fingers between the front teeth. This will gradually open your mouth farther and increase your range of motion.
The best treatment is often as simple as doing these jaw exercises. Slow, passive stretching, multiple times a day, has proven to be effective in limiting stiffness, swelling and pain. Using your thumb to push up on your top teeth and the index finger of your other hand to lightly pull down on your bottom teeth for 30 seconds many times throughout the day can increase jaw mobility.
Depending on the severity, some doctors recommend muscle relaxers and more aggressive physical therapy. There are also simple and/or complex medical devices that can be placed in the mouth to help to open the jaw gradually.
Whatever the cause, treating jaw stiffness – first with ice packs, then heat, then physical stretching – you can correct the trismus sooner and return more quickly to pain-free laughing and living.